The Thanatos Syndrome

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Readers of LOVE IN THE RUINS, set in 1983 with a coda five years later, will recall the sunny conclusion of that comic-apocalyptic novel: Dr. Tom More curled up with his wife Ellen, “at home in bed where all good folk belong.” Between 1988 and 1996, however, when THE THANATOS SYNDROME opens, things have changed. “For some time now I have noticed that something strange is occurring in our region,” More begins, and with that diagnostic observation readers will immediately find themselves in familiar territory.

More has troubles of his own: he has only recently been released from prison (albeit one of the country-club variety), where he spent two years for illegally dispensing drugs. He credits the prison experience with enforcing a certain humility, a humane detachment which permits him to “notice small things.” What he notices on his return--an odd lack of sexual inhibitions in some of his patients; a general lack of anxiety; a simplification of speech patterns -- are several “small things” which he gradually connects. He discovers that these diverse symptoms have a single cause: In a secret--and in some ways spectacularly successful--experiment to control behavior, scientists have drugged the water supply in selected areas of Louisiana. As a result, crime is radically reduced and the populace seems strangely content. There are, however, certain side effects.

Such is the premise of THE THANATOS SYNDROME. Novel of ideas, playful tale of suspense and intrigue, it deals with issues as current as today’s newspaper (euthanasia, child abuse), yet it does so in the context of fundamental questions about what it means to be human--questions that have a particular urgency in the century of mass death.


Allen, William Rodney. Walker Percy: A Southern Wayfarer. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986. Allen reads Percy as a distinctly American, particularly southern writer, claiming that...

(The entire section is 808 words.)